Is EAC ready for Fourth Industrial Revolution?

East African region’s industrialisation levels remain fairly low with contribution to Gross Domestic Product estimated at about 9 per cent. The bloc’s goal in regards to targets is to raise industrialisation contribution to about 25 per cent by 2032.

East African Community first came up with an industrialisation policy for 2012-2015 whereby not much was implemented leading to a revision with new timelines set as 2021-2032.

Though the goals may seem distant, experts say that the task is equally complex requiring multi-pronged approaches of intervention ranging from policy, financial, mindset and technology adoption.

The EAC is banking on the industrial sector to contribute significantly to the economy by creating jobs, stimulating the development of other sectors such as agriculture and services, increasing foreign exchange earnings, and improving the lives of citizens.

At a recent Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS) in Arusha, Tanzania, it emerged that the Fourth Industrial Revolution could have great impact on the region’s manufacturing, industrialisation and investment prospects.

The fourth industrial revolution is characterised by disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), drone technology among others.

With United Nations Industrial Development Organization estimating that the fourth industrial revolution could add between $16 trillion and $35 trillion, about $6 trillion is expected to go to emerging economies such as countries in the EAC.

Liberat Mfumukeko  the Secretary General of the East African Community said that in this light,  regional players in the sector  should start looking into ways  to advance their manufacturing and industrialization adopting the latest technology and trends such as the Fourth Industrial revolution.

This he said will among other things improve the quality of jobs, innovation and relevance on the global market.

He said that gradually, countries in the bloc have been adjusting their policies to improve the uptake of fourth Industrial revolution technologies and trends.

Vimal Shah, a Kenyan Entrepreneur involved in production of household consumables said that the fourth industrial revolution has the potential to increase the region’s intra-regional trade as there will be a diversity in goods produced in the region.

“The 4IR enabled firms to automate processes and systems which increases productivity, efficiency, quality and consequently the competitiveness of goods,” Shah said.

He allayed fears that the trends are likely to reduce employment opportunities adding that they have potential to improve quality of jobs across the region.

Stephen Kargbo, Unido Representative to the EAC, said that the region’s readiness for industrialisation  will be reflected in investments in advanced disruptive technologies like 3-D printing, Internet of Things, advanced robotics and drones, which will make manufacturing smarter, efficient and greener.

He added that the advancement of these manufacturing technologies will also help improve acquisition of agro-industries, water and sanitation quality for the rapidly developing towns and cities.

“Most of these industrialised countries account for over 90 per cent of digital production technologies, have invested hugely in research and development campaigns and we have to move in that direction,” Kargbo said.

 “The EAC region is endowed with vast natural resources with the potential for stimulating resource-based industrialisation in the region. However, these resources remain untapped due to a combination of factors including gaps in governance frameworks, a non-conducive business environment and gaps in requisite skills and technological know-how,” EAC Secretariat director for productive sectors Jean Baptiste Havugimana said.

He said, to address the challenges, regional cooperation needs concerted efforts to create an effective policy coordination framework geared towards eliminating constraints to growth and enterprise upgrading at the national and regional level.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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